2004-01-21 / Political Page

Ion politics

Mayor, Council Square Off For Battle Of Budget
By John Toscano
Ion politics By John Toscano Mayor, Council Square Off For Battle Of Budget


Last Thursday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg released his proposed 2004–05 upbeat budget, which shows a $1.4 billion surplus from the expiring budget and gives homeowners a $400 rebate on their property tax.

The following day, the City Council responded, letting it be known that they want to go the mayor one better by permanently rolling back a small percentage of the property tax for everyone who pays it—including major landlords and businessmen, not just owners of private homes, who are rewarded under the mayor’s rebate plan.

The stage was set for this year’s battle over the budget. Adding extra spice this go-round is a mayor revving up for re-election next year countered by a council Speaker who hopes to be his challenger.

When the mayor issued his $45.7 billion budget proposal and rebate plan, Speaker Gifford Miller had said he didn’t think the rebate plan went far enough, that it didn’t do anything to help tenants, who had seen their rents increase when landlords got hit with the 18.5 percent tax increase last November.

But the council, by spreading the tax relief more widely, would reduce the amount of the rebate. The council would also be in a better position because, while the rebate plan must be approved by the council and the state legislature, the council plan alone would not require any Albany approval. This would sow the seeds of further discord between the mayor and Miller.

TURNAROUND FOR MAYOR: Putting aside the council’s reactions, the release of the mayor’s budget showed once again that happy days on Wall Street can make any mayor look magical and boost his chances for re-election.

In sharp contrast to last year at this time when the mayor was saddled with a $3.5 billion deficit, there will be a $1.4 billion surplus on June 30, the end of this fiscal year, that can be rolled over into the new budget taking effect on July 1. This is a result of tax revenues, especially from a zooming, healthy stock market. The surge in tax collections took the city from a projected $2 billion budget gap to one with about a half-billion-dollar deficit, which is easily manageable.

True, the mayor also is proposing cuts to city agencies, but savvy City Hall watchers identify these as merely the usual "mayor cuts, City Council restores" items that liven up each year’s budget deliberations.

What’s important is that the mayor, who got zapped but good when he initialed last year’s 18.5 percent real estate tax increase as well as sales and income tax hikes, now is in line for kudos as the two latter taxes will be reduced in the future and most homeowners are getting a $400 rebate from the suddenly flush Bloomberg.

And as far as the rebate is concerned, "Let’s do it again next year," the mayor said last week prior to unveiling the new budget.

As a result of rebate checks being in the mail and a budget surplus suddenly materializing, the days of the billionaire mayor being dubbed tax-happy and insensitive to little peoples’ financial distress will ebb away and we’ll probably see an increase in popularity when the next poll is released.

Chances are that as the happy days on Wall Street continue to pour enormous revenue into the city treasury, polls will show the mayor’s popularity rising and his re-election prospects brightening.

As we said at the beginning of this piece, there’s nothing like happy, prosperous ties to make a mayor—or president or governor—look good.

RUDY STILL LOOKIN’ GOOD: Another political development last week which, if sustained, could have a major impact on elections in the near future in the city and state as well. We’re talking about the immensely good showing former Mayor Rudy Giuliani continues to display in the polls. The latest revelation last week comes two years after September 11, when Giuliani, just prior to ending two terms as mayor, kept the city calm after the devastating World Trade Center terrorist attack and started the effort to dig out at Ground Zero.

The poll showed that the ex-mayor, without the benefit of steady media exposure during those two years, still remains tremendously popular throughout the city and state, and tremendously viable as a future candidate for elective office.

In the poll, Giuliani defeated both United States Senator Charles Schumer and state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer soundly in the race for governor in 2006, and would defeat U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton if she ran for re-election two years from now.

What impressed us about these results is what they say about the effect Giuliani could have in the mayoral race next year. The ex-mayor played an important role in Bloomberg’s 2001 upset victory as he ran to succeed Giuliani.

Assuming that Bloomberg will once again receive support from his predecessor (and why wouldn’t a future Republican office seeker not campaign for a Republican mayor candidate?), that backing will improve the mayor’s chances immeasurably next year.

GRAY CLOUD EMERGES: Other than the council’s discordant note, the only rain on the mayor’s parade last week was news that former Councilmember Tom Ognibene was still on course to challenge him in the Republican mayoral primary next year.

The 60-year-old Middle Village attorney was reportedly set to file the required paperwork to put him in the race against Bloomberg with the Board of Elections. Ognibene’s challenge is based on the proposition that the mayor was originally a Democrat.

GIANARIS RAISES $1 M: Assemblymember Michael Gianaris (D–Astoria) announced last week that his prospective campaign for state Attorney General in 2006 has already raised more than $1 million. His broad-based support, he said, demonstrates commitment to his agenda of preserving the environment, enhancing New Yorkers’ security and reforming the election system.

SEARS FIGHTS FOR SCHOOL CUSTODIANS: Councilmember Helen Sears (D–Jackson Heights) joined Borough President Helen Marshall and other legislators last Thursday at a Borough Hall rally in support of saving school custodians’ jobs. The Department of Education (DOE) has announced plans to privatize custodial positions in public schools in several Queens school districts.

Sears said the DOE plan, which includes her area, would replace 255 union workers with non-union laborers. She also stated that while the city’s economy is finally beginning to thaw, the privatization plan is a step backward. The council has called on the DOE to drop its plan, she said.

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